FCC Enforcement Monitor May 2022
Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:
- FCC Shifts Battle Against Pirates to Landowners of Pirate Radio Sites
- Nevada Company Faces $100,000 Fine for Engaging in Prohibited Communications During FCC Auction
- FCC Proceeds With $17,500 Fine Against Arkansas Broadcaster for Violations Discovered During License Renewal Review
FCC’s Pirate Radio Enforcement Targets Landowners
The Enforcement Bureau recently issued Notices of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting to four property owners in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Oregon after investigations of unauthorized radio broadcasts found radio signals emanating from their properties. The Communications Act prohibits the transmission of radio signals without prior FCC authorization, as they can, among other things, pose risks to public safety by interfering with licensed operations such as air traffic control.
The FCC has stepped up its efforts to combat illegal broadcast operations, colloquially known as “pirate radio,” in the wake of Congress’s passage of the PIRATE Act in early 2020. Under Section 511 of the PIRATE Act and Section 1.80 of the FCC’s Rules, the Commission may now impose fines of up to $2 million against individuals or entities that knowingly permit pirate radio operations on their property. Additionally, the PIRATE Act permits the FCC, without first having to issue a Notice of Unlicensed Operation, to propose a penalty against any person that “willfully and knowingly does or causes or suffers to be done any pirate radio broadcasting.” The FCC will issue a Notice of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting where it has reason to believe a property owner or manager is permitting illegal broadcasts from its premises. This Notice provides the landowner a chance to remedy the situation before enforcement action is taken.
In response to complaints of illegal FM broadcast operations at four locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Oregon, the Enforcement Bureau issued Notices of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting to the respective landowners. The Notices indicated that FCC investigators had confirmed radio signals were emanating from those properties without an FCC license authorizing such transmissions. The landowners were also warned that they face a fine of up to $2 million if the FCC determines they continued to permit illegal broadcasts from their property.
While the FCC’s rules create exceptions from licensing requirements for certain extremely low-powered wireless devices, the Commission’s agents determined that the transmissions originating from the properties far exceeded those levels. The property owners have ten business days from the date of their respective Notices to (1) respond with evidence demonstrating that pirate radio broadcasts are no longer occurring on their property, and (2) identify the individual(s) involved in the illegal broadcasts. If the parties fail to respond to the Notice altogether, the FCC may still determine that the parties had sufficient knowledge of the illegal broadcasts to warrant enforcement action, including substantial fines.
FCC Proposes to Fine Wireless Company $100,000 for Violating Rules Against Communicating Bidding Strategies During FCC Auction
The FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing to fine a wireless broadband provider (the “Company”) $100,000 for engaging in prohibited communications of bidding and bidding strategies during the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I Auction (Auction 904) and failing to timely report the prohibited communications.
Section 1.21002(b) of the FCC’s Rules forbids FCC auction applicants from conveying certain information to other auction applicants during the “quiet period.” This “quiet period” begins on the deadline for filing a short-form application to participate in the auction and ends on the deadline for winning bidders to submit long-form applications. The rule applies to any communication by an applicant regarding its own, or any other applicant’s, bids or bidding strategies. Continue reading →